The Union government has recently filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court claiming that a caste census of the Backward Classes is an administratively difficult and cumbersome project. The government’s averment came in response to a writ petition filed by the State of Maharashtra to gather Backward Classes’ caste data in the State while conducting Census 2021.

About Caste Census

The current debate on the caste census gives an opportunity to the Indian state and its policy makers to be reminded about the core value of social justice enshrined in our Indian Constitution and its framework in order to assess the demands of caste census and its policies

The  caste census is not just a head count. This gives an identity to one and all in the modern nation state. Not only this, the census broadly gives an opportunity to all communities as well as castes to evaluate the extent to which they have received their participation and share in the constitutional government institutions at the Central and State levels and in the developmental schemes and programmes in the present and past.  This group identity also creates a measure for assessing the engagement and share of the community vis-a-vis other groups, communities and castes through their enumeration in the census. This description of the salient features of the census in the Government documents and textbooks is rather value neutral.

Arguments against the Caste Census:

Unusable data: The Indian government has reasoned that even when the census of castes were taken in the pre-Independence period, the data agonized in respect of “completeness and accuracy”.
It said the caste data enumerated in the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) of 2011 is “unusable” for official purposes as they are “replete with technical flaws”.

Not a Ideal Policy Tool: The government said caste-wise enumeration in the Census was given up as a matter of policy from 1951. Further, the Centre explained that a population census was not the “ideal instrument as many people may not register themselves in the census in the event of hiding their caste. This may compromise the “basic integrity” of the census.

Executive Difficulties: Besides, the Centre held that, it is too late now to enumerate caste into the Census 2021. Planning and preparations for the census exercise started almost four years earlier and the preparations of Census 2021 are almost done.

Arguments in Favour of SECC:

Statistical justification- It will be useful to establish statistical justification for preserving caste-based affirmative action programmes or welfare schemes.

Legal imperative- It may also be a legal imperative, considering that courts want ‘quantifiable data’ to support the existing levels of reservation. 

Real Identification- Comprehensive exercise to enumerate the caste status of all households in the country will help in identifying poor households and implement anti-poverty programmes.

Key Difference between Census & SECC


The origin of the Census in India goes back to the colonial exercise of 1881.Census has evolved and been used by the government, policymakers, academics, and others to capture the Indian population, access resources, map social change, delimitation exercise, etc.However, as early as the 1940s, W.W.M. Yeatts, Census Commissioner for India for the 1941 Census, had pointed out that “the census is a large, immensely powerful, but blunt instrument unsuited for specialized inquiry.”


SECC was conducted for the first time since 1931. SECC is meant to canvass every Indian family, both in rural and urban India, and ask about their: Economic status, so as to allow Central and State authorities to come up with a range of indicators of deprivation, permutations, and combinations of which could be used by each authority to define a poor or deprived person. It is also meant to ask every person their specific caste name to allow the government to re-evaluate which caste groups were economically worse off and which were better off.SECC has the potential to allow for a mapping of inequalities at a broader level.

Difference Between Census & SECC:

The Census provides a portrait of the Indian population, while the SECC is a tool to identify beneficiaries of state support.Since the Census falls under the Census Act of 1948, all data are considered confidential, whereas according to the SECC website, “all the personal information given in the SECC is open for use by Government departments to grant and/or restrict benefits to households.”

Way Forward

The current debate on the caste census gives an opportunity to the Indian state to be reminded about the core value of social justice enshrined in the Indian constitution and its framework, in order to assess the demands of caste census and its policies. Simultaneously, all political parties have an opportunity to take forward the legacy of social justice in their voices and opinions for the caste census if they are truly committed to the cause of empowering all situated at the margins. Otherwise, its implication would be for raising of voices and opinions which would generate confrontation and competition within and across the castes. In this sense, the future of the politics of the caste census is likely to be entrapped in the past legacy which was constructed by the colonial state in the late 19th century.



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